Classical CD Reviews

BACH: Cantatas for Ascension Day = God is gone up with a shout; He that believeth and is baptized; On Christ’s ascent to heaven alone; Praise God in his kingdoms – Lenneke Ruiten, sop./ Meg Bragle, alto; Andrew Tortise, tenor/ Dietrich Henschel, bass/ Monteverdi Choir/ English Baroque Soloists/ John Eliot Gardiner – Soli Deo Gloria

Gardiner’s religious Bach series continues with a flourish, and unbelievable consistency for a sequence that has lasted so long.

Published on June 28, 2013

BACH: Cantatas for Ascension Day = God is gone up with a shout, BWV 43; He that believeth and is baptized, BWV 37; On Christ’s ascent to heaven alone, BWV 128; Praise God in his kingdoms (Ascension Oratorio), BWV 11 – Lenneke Ruiten, sop./ Meg Bragle, alto; Andrew Tortise, tenor/ Dietrich Henschel, bass/ Monteverdi Choir/ English Baroque Soloists/ John Eliot Gardiner – Soli Deo Gloria SDG 185, 77:08 [Distr. by Naxos] (4/13) ****:

Gardiner’s series of Bach’s religious cantatas has now reached the 28th volume, and what a ride it has been. At least ten years have passed since it first began, and even now recordings are still being made at concerts just a year ago. What is remarkable is the consistency of performances over that period, and especially the sound, always vibrant, up front, and incredibly clear, though in no way would I consider it state-of-the-art. Nevertheless, if I had only these in my collection with no SACD to be found I could still rest content, for few series—maybe none—match the spirit and devotional sense of joy and expertise that he brings to this music.

In this volume we have cantatas—and actually one oratorio—for Ascension Day, one of the highlights of the Christian year. He that believeth and is baptized was performed in Leipzig in 1724, with an anonymous text reflecting St. Mark’s gospel. Most of the piece is concerned with Luther’s doctrine of justification by faith alone, though there is some baptismal gurgling found in places in the accompaniment redolent of “he that believes and is baptized shall be saved.” On Christ’s ascent to heaven alone is part of Bach’s second Leipzig cycle (1725), featuring a pair of high horns, and giving us the first major key in any cantata since Easter. Librettist Christiane Mariane uses wide ranging texts spanning St. Matthew’s gospel to Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. The work is known especially for a beautiful duet for alto and tenor with the oboe d’amore. It was the cantatas of distant cousin Johann Ludwig Bach that Sebastian had been performing in 1726 for some months before penning God is gone up with a shout, using a Meiningen text (where Ludwig worked) that has an unusual bipartite form. This division shows prophetically the Old Testament allusion to the Ascension, while part II confirms the reality of the fulfillment.

In the 1730s Bach had left composing cantatas, though he polished many of them, adding and revising, worked on some of the short masses, and worked on his three oratorios for Christmas, Easter, and Ascension. The latter, known as the cantata Praise God in his kingdoms, is a heart-warming piece bookended by two D-major choruses, again written specifically for the church, and not for public amusement as was so often the case with Handel, who perfected the form. The two arias of this eleven-movement work are the highlights, having their origins in a lost wedding cantata. The last movement ends with a full-orchestra and chorus bang, giving a real sendoff to the Ascension series.

If you are collecting this series, don’t stop now! If you are new to it, jump in anywhere.

—Steven Ritter




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